Electrophysiology Program: Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Program

Atrial fibrillation occurs when rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) to contract very quickly and irregularly (fibrillate). Atrial fibrillation causes blood to gather in the atria because it isn’t pumping completely into the ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart).

Atrial fibrillation is the most common condition associated with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat (arrhythmia). Also known as afib, the condition affects more than 2.3 million people in the United States. More than 160,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. Untreated, atrial fibrillation can raise the risk of stroke more than five-fold and has also been shown to double the risk of mortality.

There are two main types of atrial fibrillation:

  • Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation converts back and forth between normal and abnormal rhythms
  • Persistent or permanent atrial fibrillation is when atrial fibrillation is present most of the time

In either case, delaying the treatment can make future treatment attempts less successful.

The UF physicians at the UF Health Jacksonville Cardiovascular Center are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat afib with access to the latest research and technologies that help control the condition as quickly as possible, so you can get back to a full, healthy life.

Video: About Atrial Fibrillation

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

Some people who have atrial fibrillation don’t experience any symptoms. Those who do have symptoms may experience one or more of the following:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Trouble exercising
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Atrial fibrillation can go undetected for a long time because it does not typically cause any pain or discomfort, or it may come and go over time. In fact, the main symptoms of atrial fibrillation are fatigue, shortness of breath, poor exercise tolerance, lightheadedness and racing heart.

The majority of patients with atrial fibrillation need some type of anti-coagulants (blood thinners) to lower their risk of stroke. Patients who are older and have coexisting cardiac or vascular conditions are at a higher risk. Our physicians will be able to accurately determine the level of this risk and prescribe an appropriate drug therapy.

Risk Factors

There are a number of risk factors associated with atrial fibrillation. People with one or more of the following conditions have a much higher chance of developing afib than the general population:

  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Thyroid problems
  • Atherosclerotic heart disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart valve disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation

When you come to UF Health Cardiovascular Center, our cardiologists will discuss your symptoms with you and make an assessment. If our physicians suspect you may have atrial fibrillation, they may suggest one or more of the following tests:

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) is the primary method for diagnosing atrial fibrillation. It measures the activity of your heart.
  • A blood test can help rule out a thyroid problem or other substances in your blood that could be causing the atrial fibrillation.
  • A chest X-ray can help determine if you have another condition in your lungs that could be causing your symptoms.
  • A Holter monitor assesses your heart’s activity over a longer period of time (usually at least 24 hours) to give your doctor a fuller picture of your heart’s rhythms.
  • An echocardiogram provides video images of your heart in motion so your doctor can determine if you have an underlying structural heart disease.

Once our physicians have diagnosed your condition, we will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation

If you have atrial fibrillation, your symptoms may come and go over time, or they may be persistent. Your cardiologist will discuss your symptoms with you so he or she can determine proper treatment based on your unique needs. The treatment your cardiologist recommends will depend on:

  • How long you’ve had atrial fibrillation
  • Severity of your symptoms
  • The underlying cause of your atrial fibrillation

In general, the goals of treatment of this condition are to reset the rhythm of your heart, control your heart rate and prevent blood clots. Our physicians tailor a specific therapy on an individual basis, offering many advanced and state-of-the-art treatment options, including:

  • Direct-current cardioversion (DCCV) uses electric shock to momentarily stop — and then restart — your heart’s activity. This shock is delivered via paddles or patches on your chest while you are sedated.

  • Drug-induced cardioversion uses medications known as anti-arrhythmics to help correct your heartbeat. These medications may be delivered orally (by mouth) or intravenously (by vein).

  • Pacemaker (PPM) implantation, which places a small device in the chest or abdomen to help control heart rhythms with low-energy electrical pulses.

  • Radiofrequency catheter ablation, a procedure that uses a catheter in your blood vessels to reach your heart and uses a high-frequency radio pulse to generate heat to alter heart tissue, stopping the arrhythmia.

  • Minimally invasive surgical ablation (also known as a mini-maze procedure), which uses small incisions in your chest to reach your heart with an ablation device to alter the heart tissue.

  • Open surgical (maze) procedures, during which the chest cavity is opened to reach the heart and a number of incisions are made on the left and right atria to form scar tissue. The scar tissue does conduct electricity and interrupts abnormal rhythms.

To prevent blood clots, your doctor may recommend a blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin. Warfarin is a powerful blood thinner that can cause dangerous bleeding. You will need to be regularly monitored if you are taking this medication. There are other, newer types of blood-thinning medications (such as Pradaxa, Xarelto or Eliquis) that your doctor may alternatively prescribe.

Why Choose UF Health Jacksonville for Treatment

The UF Health Cardiovascular Center includes internationally recognized physicians who are leaders in cardiac care, research and education. Our cardiologists, as faculty of the University of Florida Division of Cardiology – Jacksonville, participate in numerous national and international clinical trials and offer accredited fellowship training programs in cardiology, electrophysiology and interventional cardiology.

These faculty physicians provide services at the UF Health Cardiovascular Center – Jacksonville, which has fully integrated, comprehensive heart programs, including a coronary interventional program, nuclear program, electrophysiology program, non-invasive program and peripheral interventional program.

UF Health Jacksonville is renowned for treating patients with complex diseases and being on the forefront of advancing the science of interventional cardiology. Using the most sophisticated equipment available, the center offers state-of-the-art diagnostic, therapeutic and rehabilitative cardiac services. Many leading-edge interventional therapies are offered in Northeast Florida only at the UF Health Cardiovascular Center – Jacksonville.

Jacksonville Atrial Fibrillation Specialists

  • John N. Catanzaro, M.D., FACC, FESC, FHRS
    Assistant Professor
    Associate Medical Director, Electrophysiology Program; Associate Program Director, Electrophysiology Fellowship
    Specializes in Cardiovascular Disease; Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology
  • Steve S. Hsu, M.D.
    Associate Professor
    Medical Director, Electrophysiology Program; Program Director, Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship
    Specializes in Cardiovascular Disease; Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology
  • Robert J. Kim, M.D.
    Assistant Professor
    Specializes in Cardiovascular Disease; Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology

Atrial Fibrillation Program Locations

  1. UF Health Cardiovascular Center - Jacksonville

    5th Floor, Ambulatory Care Center
    655 West 8th Street
    Jacksonville, FL 32209

  2. UF Health Cardiovascular Center - North

    Suite 3600
    15255 Max Leggett Parkway
    Jacksonville, FL 32218

  3. UF Health Multispecialty Center - St. Marys

    201 B Lakeshore Point
    St. Marys, GA 31558